Kentucky businesses cash in on UK's NCAA basketball championship

ssloan@herald-leader.comApril 4, 2012 

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If there's one universal truth, surely it's that dogs can't be cats. Right?


It turns out that in the wake of the University of Kentucky's eighth men's basketball championship, even dogs can dress as the Cats, courtesy of Fan Outfitters and its line of UK T-shirts for dogs.

The canine clothing is one of numerous ways a variety of Lexington businesses, including restaurants, banks, local media and the post office, are cashing in on the Cats' victory.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Joe Kawaja, president of Lexington-based collegiate retailer Fan Outfitters. "Fourteen years of pent-up demand is a great thing."

Before Monday night's game, Kawaja said, Fan Outfitters "took a chance" and printed a couple thousand T-shirts proclaiming UK as the champion. The company's stores in Lexington and Louisville opened at midnight and ran through the allotment within an hour, he said.

"I wasn't sure what would happen in Louisville, but it was very, very good in Louisville, too," he said.

The company's workers were up all night Monday, unpacking arriving orders from other vendors, and they opened stores again at 6 a.m.

"By 9 o'clock, there were lines very, very deep at the register," he said. "It was record sales, no question about it."

Kawaja said the most popular apparel has been the gray national championship T-shirts and hats worn by the UK players after their victory Monday night.

Lexington's Beau Robinson was buying a handful of T-shirts Wednesday and speculated he might spend upwards of $500 on UK memorabilia in the coming weeks.

"It's like the other night when I was partying everywhere, I'm never going to forget it as long as I live," he said.

Limited-edition everything

Other businesses are offering limited-edition collectibles connected to the victory. Coca-Cola has produced 12-ounce cans bearing the UK logo that will be sold in six-packs by retailers throughout the state, spokeswoman Jennifer Richmond said. She said 60,000 six-packs are being produced and began shipping to retailers Wednesday.

The U.S. Postal Service has created a commemorative envelope celebrating the Final Four and matted artwork that can be ordered at post offices or by calling (502) 454-1991. The envelope costs $16, and the artwork is $40. Both prices include shipping and handling. The items will be available through July 1 or while supplies last.

And the Herald-Leader has been selling copies of commemorative front pages, press plates and special sections, among other items. The newspaper also has prepared a book on the championship season and is finalizing plans for plaques showcasing various front pages, publisher Rufus Friday said.

"It's been an incredible experience," Friday said. "I have gotten a lot of thank-yous from the community for the work that has been done."

Coverage includes conflict

Local media managers said they were expected spikes in viewership and readership as the tournament progressed. More than 5,000 people visited WKYT's Web site to watch the streaming news conference after the Wildcats' victory over the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday night, news director Robert Thomas said.

"And obviously for the station as a whole, having the games air on WKYT is a huge boon for our sales department," he said.

Coverage of the games has not been without controversy, though. There was a dust-up after NBC affiliate WLEX (Channel 18) aired UK's championship celebration at Rupp Arena on Tuesday afternoon.

Tony Neely, media relations director for UK Athletics, said the situation was being reviewed because he had notified local media that the event was exclusively for UK's IMG TV network, which is WKYT in Lexington.

WLEX general manager Pat Dalbey defended his station.

"They contend that they have exclusive rights for that sort of an event with" WKYT, he said. "And I just absolutely disagree with them.

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a bona fide news story, and we covered it as such."

Neely declined to address what actions would be taken if UK finds it to be a violation of its live broadcast media rights.

Tourism ads boost

The state kicked up its advertising campaign touting Kentucky as a unique tourism destination as soon as UK and Louisville clinched bids to the Final Four.

Tourism officials clocked an uptick this week in the number of visits to their Web site — about 9 percent — over the previous week. News releases from March 26 to 31 that touted the "There's Only One" campaign, which started in January, were printed on more than 1,000 Web sites, said Hank Phillips, acting commissioner for the Kentucky Department for Travel and Tourism.

Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson were interviewed last week by dozens of national media outlets. As Beshear said last week, "You can't buy this kind of exposure."

But it's too early to say whether increased exposure will result in more visitors at state parks and more tourism revenue, Phillips said.

"Down the road, we will be assessing as best we can how much it moved the needle in terms of awareness and ultimately visitation to the state," Phillips said.

Longtime partners benefit

The championship is the crown jewel for companies that have been sponsors of UK Athletics all year. Among those is Central Bank, which highlighted its sponsorship in recent months with an advertising campaign touting its mobile banking services.

"The customer reaction has far exceeded our expectations for that," said Steve Kelly, executive vice president for marketing and sales.

The bank has begun a championship campaign "to remind the Big Blue Nation that we are the official bank of UK Athletics, and we think it makes sense to certainly be a part of the celebratory efforts," Kelly said.

And McDonald's, which has been a perennial UK Athletics sponsor and distributor of popular posters, has planned a deal for Thursday to honor the Cats.

People buying a quarter pounder with cheese individually or as part of a combo may receive a second one for 8 cents in honor of UK's eighth national championship. The deal is good from 10:30 a.m. to midnight at McDonald's restaurants in Central and southeastern Kentucky.

Most restaurants and bars already have seen business spike. Even those that aren't typical sports destinations got in on the celebration.

Lexington Cajun restaurant Bourbon n' Toulouse brought in televisions and a keg of New Orleans-area Abita beer to celebrate during Saturday's game against Louisville.

"We had a huge crowd and had a lot of fun," co-owner Kevin Heathcoat said. "And then we all piled out of here, locked the doors and went down to Woodland and Euclid to celebrate."

Herald-Leader staff writer Beth Musgrave and photographer Charles Bertram contributed to this report.Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz.

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